- The Washington Times - Sunday, February 11, 2007

Back in the good ol’ days when I was a congressional staffer, budget time was akin to Christmas or Valentine’s Day. By the time the thick book would reach the steps of the U.S. Capitol, members sent their young aides scurrying down to fetch copies delivered from the government printing office.

Once back in the office, we would turn to the appropriate section dealing with matters pertaining to our congressional district to see whether the president had forgotten us. Then we would look to see whether he had thought enough of America’s most vulnerable citizens to give them a little hope.

Looking at President Bush’s budget for fiscal 2008, I can’t help but conclude that the only things he cares about are the war in Iraq and protecting the bank accounts of America’s wealthiest citizens. Certainly, the president, who once campaigned as a compassionate conservative, has overlooked the poor, those living on fixed incomes and even the middle-class.

Where is the compassion in his budget for educating our nation’s children? Where’s the abiding concern for our environment? Where’s the commitment to help insure more Americans and assist those falling further and further behind? Where’s the warmth for those shivering at night from an unusual blast of arctic air? It’s not in this budget, but I am sure the president would say his financial plan reflects his priorities but not matters of the heart.

The president’s 2008 budget is all smoke and mirrors — hiding long-term costs of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan as well as the costs of proposed programs, such as the privatization of Social Security. Once again, this shows the White House remains fixated on governing for those with the means to survive a cold, wintry night, those who can save for those rainy days that are sure to come.

If ever there was a time for the president to reclaim the mantle of compassion, it should have come with a budget crafted to help all Americans, including those who protect our streets and neighborhoods.

But I would not complain about the budget if it was fair, sound and significantly reduced the debt our children and grandchildren will inherit. Rather, when it comes to red ink, the president’s budget has it by the gallons.

It is truly astounding that this administration has accumulated such back-breaking debt while still viciously slashing programs most crucial to the most vulnerable populations. Education funding is cut by $2.3 billion in fiscal 08 alone, while Medicare and Medicaid are cut by $300 billion over 10 years. Veteran Affairs funding is cut by $3.5 billion over five years, which is appalling to begin with, but utterly unconscionable when considering how the Bush administration has multiplied the number of veterans dependent on VA services by starting a needless, reckless and unending war in Iraq.

Veterans aren’t the only ones this budget leaves out in the cold. The president’s budget proposes an 18 percent cut in the Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program, which helps people pay the heating bills they can’t afford. As I shiver, still trying to shake off the bitter chill I contracted during the short distance from my car to my office, I wonder how many lives such a cut would claim. Half a dozen people have already died as a result of the cold front covering most of the nation. How many more casualties would we see if nearly one-fifth of LIHEAP’s funding disappears?

In an industrialized, developed nation with an SUV for too many drivers, will we allow people to die because they can’t pay for heat? Truly, where are our priorities? Where’s the love this Valentine’s Day?

Then there’s the war in Iraq, a topic the Senate refuses to debate, but it’s costing us billions of dollars sorely needed elsewhere. The president’s budget presupposes absolutely no expenditures in Iraq after 2008. Are we to assume our troops will finally make it home? I hope the president is right, but something tells me it’s more smoke and mirrors.

I know where President Bush’s priorities are, but I hope Congress will take the time to reconsider them in a thoughtful and humane manner. The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities reports that “the value of tax cuts for people with incomes over $1 million will exceed the total amount that the federal government devotes to priorities like K-12 and vocational education or medical care for veterans.”

The budget includes tax breaks and royalties for oil and gas companies, but cuts $107 million from the Head Start program. It grants drilling rights in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge but ends funding for the program that provides nearly half a million low-income seniors with a bag of food each month to keep them from starving.

I know in moments like this there are some who believe the poor will just continue to make ends meet. But, I can attest that the poor, like the wealthy and middle class, need government on their side rather than working to cut off the very rope that will help them get back on their feet.

Our government exists to serve the powerless, protect the weak and defend the vulnerable, as well as others. Children, seniors, the poor and those barely making it — those are the people who need the government’s help. Those are the ones it should serve. Not oil tycoons. Not multinational corporations exporting jobs. Not CEOs writing enormous checks to Republican campaign coffers.

With Valentine’s Day in the air, I have to wonder, does this man have a heart?

Donna Brazile is a political commentator on CNN, ABC and NPR, contributing columnist to Roll Call and former campaign manager for Al Gore.

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